A tool for countering online hate and harassment – without making things worse (graphical version here)
Note to counterspeakers: Every situation is different, and counterspeech doesn’t always work. Sometimes people are determined to hurt, are convinced they’re right, or both. At those times it might be best to disengage or use other tactics,* so use your best judgment. If you choose to engage, here are some tips for getting positive results.
Before You Start
- Protect yourself – take steps to protect yourself from retaliation (see the resources at iheartmob.org/tech). Think about how your online identity or profiles could be used against you.
- Remind yourself that behind each comment – no matter how hateful – is a human being. Treat them as you would want to be treated.
- Think about what you want to accomplish. Do you want to change the person’s mind, or how they post or tweet? Stop them from attacking someone else? Change other people’s minds or behavior?
Things you can try when you feel safe:
- Stay calm. If you’re upset, wait a bit before responding.
- Ask questions, like “Why do you think that?” or “What do you mean?”
- Refer to potential outcomes, like “That could hurt someone.”
- Label the comment, not the person, like “That word comes from a racist stereotype.”
- Show empathy and connection with the target (“I’m Asian American too, and…”) or with the speaker (“I’m angry about this too, but…”).
- Start a supportive hashtag like #LoveForLeslieJones.
- Try humor. If your intent is kind and you’re not mocking the person, humor can soften the exchange and attract others to show their support.
- Counter with images that are silly, clever, or funny – not hurtful – to de-escalate.
- Don’t label people – for example, calling them a bigot.
- Don’t assume the person has bad intentions.
- Don’t be hostile, insulting, or aggressive – it can escalate the conflict.
- Don’t talk down to the person – it can shut down communication.
- Don’t nitpick or correct spelling or grammar. Use a civil tone and link to a source if you want to correct false information.
- Don’t silence the person with threats, social exclusion, or other punishment.
Adapted from “Considerations for Successful Counterspeech,” by Susan Benesch, Derek Ruths, Kelly P. Dillon, Haji Mohammad Saleem, and Lucas Wright (The Dangerous Speech Project, October 2016) and Megan Phelps-Roper’s TED Talk of February, 2017. Edited by Anne Collier of NetFamilyNews.org, in cooperation with the Dangerous Speech Project, HeartMob and Project HEAR. Design by Kendall Simpson. Special thanks to student adviser Chet Ellis in Connecticut.
Find the graphical version of this resource at CounterspeechTips.org.
*For more tips on countering on- and offline harassment, visit this page at iHollaback.org.
- “Considerations for Successful Counterspeech,” by Susan Benesch, Derek Ruths, Kelly P Dillon, Haji Mohammad Saleem and Lucas Wright
- More tips for countering harassment offline as well as online at iHollaback.org
- “Defusing Hate: A Strategic Communication Guide to Counteract Dangerous Speech,” by Rachel Brown
- Megan Phelps-Roper’s February 2017 TED Talk
- HeartMob’s Social Media Safety Guides
- FAQ at DangerousSpeech.org
- This resource has literally been in the works for years: Here’s some background on counterspeech as an online safety tool in a 2015 post at NetFamilyNews.org.